I am appalled, fellow Homo sapiens, that this movie is not cherished more. Appalled and aghast! Boo, humanity, for not cherishing the disco fae magic of David Copperfield; the whitest knight, Conductor Ben Johnson (may he bless us); the beauty and talent of Vanity (R.I.P.); the utmost last-girl perfection of Jamie Lee Curtis; and of course, the main star: the nauseating confusion of one’s budding sexuality.
Jokes aside, I am honestly surprised that this hasn’t discovered more traction in recent years, with the likes of fellow films such as Nightmare on Elmstreet 2 and Sleepaway Camp. This movie really has something for everyone to be entertained with – the hipster to ironically enjoy the awkward magic of David Copperfield; the feminist to enjoy the hard-as-tacks (but still vulnerable) Jamie Lee Curtis; the Boomer to enjoy the godly pristineness of the gentlemanly conductor; the horny teen to enjoy some nudity and making out; and the LBGTQ in the mix to enjoy the subtle and not-so-subtle nods to sexuality and identity. This is a full-package movie that deserves to be back on people’s radars.
On New Years Eve, first-year pre-med fraternity students are celebrating with the tradition of “losing their beanie hat” by having sex with one of their sorority sisters. Kenny, a shy student, is tricked by the others into thinking he’ll be losing his virginity, when in fact, it’s pieces of corpses reassembled into a full body. Once he realizes this, Kenny panics and loses his mind.
Three years later, just before the New Year again, the same sorority and fraternity students decide to celebrate by booking a party train for the night. Unfortunately, it’s the perfect place for them to be picked off one-by-one by a masked serial killer.
Everything. Disco. Jamie Lee Curtis. Magic. David Copperfield with a knife. Vanity. A live band falling down in a train-car. 70’s Costume Party. Everyone sleeping with each other. Ben Johnson bringing to life one of the most sincere and sweet “authority figure” protagonists I’ve seen in a movie. The claustrophobia of the train’s space. Jamie Lee’s last girl really having a battle of wits, scrap and compassion for her survival that was refreshing to watch. An interesting killer with motives and backstory, but not everything spelled out or force-fed to the audience.
Kenny’s tornado-twist freak out was….an odd choice.
Brain Roll Juice:
This should be on more movie lists, especially LGBTQ. There’s a lot it says about sexuality, identity, and social norms. Some of those are explored slyly and some not-so-much, depending on your experiences.
I also want to put this into context: this was the early 80’s when the film was released and the AIDs pandemic was just beginning to grow. To be honest, the director (Roger Spottiswoode) took a lot of risks with this very high-budgeted film to explore these themes of sexuality.
I find it interesting that Roger Ebert at the time of its release gave it only one star and, in his review, cited that the movie was just a series of sensations and didn’t care to tell a story, especially in comparison to the horror films of the 1930’s. However, Terror Train did something that most movies of the 30’s could not do, which was explore different types of sexuality, especially when there was a huge stigma against it. The move was, in fact, telling a story and did care, but I don’t think that Mr. Ebert could hear what it was trying to tell.
If you like this movie and are interested, I’d recommend reading some interviews with actor Derek McKinnon about this film. They provide more insight into the film and his character.
A surprise 4 out of 5. Campy enough for a movie night. Thoughtful enough if you care to listen. And again, disco magic with young David Copperfield.(4 / 5)